In business they say, “the customer is king” … but do customers today really want to be kings?
They certainly don’t act like it. From do-it-yourself banking to self-check-in at the airport and self-check-out at the grocery store, customers have taken on more of the work to get faster, and often better, service in return.
Online consumers aren’t sitting on thrones wearing crowns either. Every day they give up their personal information, provide useful feedback and ideas on products and services, and promote their favorite brands for free. In return they want accurate real-time information, immediate responses, and quick and easy transactions on any device. But those aren’t king-size expectations, that’s just business today.
The relationship between business and customer has evolved. To be competitive now and win the consumer of tomorrow, companies need to adapt and connect with their customers in new ways.
At a recent Conversations on the Future of Business event, Josh Linkner, founder and CEO of Detroit Venture Partners and author of Disciplined Dreaming (pictured above), led a session called ‘The Customer-Centric Company.’ He gave several real-world examples of how customer-centric thinking can impact a business. Here are three stories and techniques that stood out:
A customer-centric business continuously examines itself from the outside in, the way its customers and competitors do. Many companies, especially large ones, are so concerned about internal “priorities” they lose sight of what is going on around them.
When Ray Davis, president and CEO, took over Umpqua Bank in 1994, he turned the bank’s thinking upside down. Davis examined the bank from a customer’s perspective, instead of a bankers perspective, and reimagined the retail banking experience altogether.
Over the next few years Umpqua opened revolutionary retail-oriented stores that looked more like warm and welcoming lounges and social spaces than banks. The bank offered customers everything from movie nights to yoga classes to investing basics. It even launched an Umpqua ice-cream truck for community kids. Davis’s customer-centric approach has grown the bank from 6 to 200 branches and over $11 billion in assets, making it a regular showcase on the Forbes list of best banks.
Act like a startup
Successful companies often get soft. They lose focus on their customers and what made them successful in the first place. “Companies get so caught up with building structure and controlling resources they miss opportunities to innovate where needed,” said Linkner. This opens the door for others to steal market share or take over completely.
Dollar Shave Club is a perfect example. Not many people would try to take on shave industry giant Gillette, but Dollar Shave Club founder and Chief Executive Michael Dubin thought otherwise. He started the company on a shoestring budget and decided to make a funny and personable marketing video, starring himself, to gain some exposure. Within weeks the video went viral on YouTube and he had tens of thousands of customers.
Dubin created a business practically overnight, selling a commodity in a saturated market. He did it by connecting with men in a personal and engaging way and yanked millions of dollars of business out of the hands of well-established competitors. “If that type of disruption can happen to Gillette, all companies are vulnerable,” said Linkner.
Be original and authentic
Linkner’s story about Dove summed up the customer-centric discussion very well. He said beauty-brand marketing is pretty formulaic. Most brands hire a model or celebrity, take photos, doctor them up on the computer, and run a bunch of expensive print ad campaigns. But Dove feels this represents an unrealistic standard of beauty and adversely impacts the self-esteem of women, so it went in the opposite direction.
Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign and renowned short film Evolution celebrated inner beauty and real women. It exposed the underside of the beauty industry and made competitors look like imposters. Linkner noted it was a risky move for Dove, but the Evolution video went viral on YouTube and was seen by millions of people around the world before it was released in an official campaign.
As a result, Dove shifted its entire marketing strategy in that direction and sales soared. “This went on to become one of the most successful and prolific ad campaigns in history,” said Linkner. “And it wasn’t because they did what everyone else was doing, but because they connected with the real customer and went in the opposite direction.”
Being a customer-centric business today means more than treating customers like kings. It means engaging customers like people, connecting with them in original and authentic ways, and maintaining a relationship with them over the long-haul.
This article originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.
Photo: David Trites